Show business is known for being a demeaning, dispiriting, and humiliating industry, even under the best of circumstances. But for those affected by various forms of dwarfism, resulting in the stunted growth of their limbs, the situation can be especially grim. While movies and TV have gradually become more sensitive in their depiction of various genders, races, religions, and sexual preferences, the entertainment industry still treats little people, or LPs, in an embarrassing, stereotyped way in 2016. It’s been 77 years since The Wizard Of Oz, but the public image of LPs has scarcely improved since then. The days of P.T. Barnum and carnival sideshows may be over, but little people are still performing in sleazy, exploitative cabaret shows and portraying elves and goblins in movies. Seth Abramovitch writes about numerous issues related to the LP community in a wide-ranging piece for The Hollywood Reporter entitled “Little People, Big Woes In Hollywood: Low Pay, Degrading Jobs And A Tragic Death.” As that title indicates, the focal point of the article is the tragic early death of a performer named Kimberly Tripp, who impersonated Kim Kardashian professionally. Among those who contributed their thoughts to the article are Verne Troyer, Deep Roy, Warwick Davis, and Bad Santa star Tony Cox. Game Of Thrones star Peter Dinklage is not among the interviewees, but the article includes some surprisingly dark past quotes from the actor.
Though LPs are plagued by health problems and chronic pain, Tripp’s death was due to her chronic alcoholism. Depression and substance abuse are sadly common among those with dwarfism. Troyer in particular talks about his struggles with alcohol. According to the article, the Austin Powers star “nearly died of alcohol poisoning in 2002” and has had numerous relapses and run-ins with the law since then. Abramovitch says that “there are no medical studies on suicide and depression rates among little people, but the anecdotal evidence is alarming.” He cites the sad example of Time Bandits star David Rappaport, who killed himself in 1990.
Apart from these issues, actors with dwarfism have to face some appalling prejudice and preconceptions in their quest for the few roles open to LPs. Cox has a particularly harrowing story from the front lines, an anecdote about his first acting class:
The teacher looked at me and said, “You’re black. That’s a strike against you.” Then he said, “Turn around.” I remember feeling like a piece of meat. So I turned around and the guy said, “The only thing you’ll ever be in is a costume.”